English immigrant David Cragg landed at the docks of York (Toronto) at ten o’clock in the evening of June 17, 1833. He and his family had journeyed long and far, sailing from England over two and a half months earlier upon an immigrant packet ship. They had endured stormy seas, violent winds, rogue waves, cramped quarters, rationed food, and foul water.
They had put up with Quarantine Island (present day Grosse Ile) in Quebec, and suffered through a difficult voyage up the St. Lawrence River including climbing the rapids west of Montreal.
David had left three of his daughters behind at Prescot (sic), Ontario as domestics because he knew he would not have enough money to house and feed them once they arrived in York.
June 17 had been a sunny, hot day, the kind of summer day for which Toronto was famous. He piled their meagre but treasured belongings on the wharf, and his oldest son, Isaac guarded the boxes while David and his younger children sought shelter at a public house for the night.
Despite their hard Atlantic passage, David’s optimism shines through, in discovering his family clock had survived the voyage.
He writes of his first day in York:
“June 18, Tuesday – A fine day – hot. We set to take a house or part of one this morning. Several to be met with. We took two rooms and the use of a cellar at no. 42, Hospital Street (Note from Barb: Hospital Street is present day Queen Street in Toronto.) A nice place and plenty of room for my family. Rent one pound per month. Hired a cart and got our goods to the house and got the clock unpacked and set up by ten o’clock in the forenoon and off it started tick-tock and had not received the least bruise or injury at all…
“…We have been 80 days from our home at Langthwaite to this place and are got to board and bed again in our own hired house at York, Upper Canada.”
David enjoyed walking the streets of York that first summer and he writes of his observations in his diary. He is quite taken by the everyday activities of the town, seemingly fascinated by small yet remarkable details:
“The streets, the name set up at every corner. The houses numbered. The number set over the door in fair figures. One side 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, etc. The other side 2, 4, 6, 8, etc. Streets wide. In some places a row of trees before the house doors. A foot path on either side of the street ten feet wide, some places flagged, some boarded, some nothing but soil. Streets not paved or Mac-Adamed. Very dusty when dry, desperately mucky when it rains. Very little sweeping of the footway and the steps at the doors, only some smarter houses and shops. Windows never cleaned since the house was made. Horsemen all go a-gallop through the dust and mud. Wagons and carts go along trot, loaded or empty. Wagons of hay at the rate of seven miles an hour. 50 or 60 stone for two horses. Oxen not so fast.
“People very civil, never a misbeholden word or skittish remark made upon one another, travel the streets as you will. An Englishman now and then may come up and say, “Let’s have a hold of your hand. I see you are an Englishman.” Same as neighbours from Cumberland or farmers of Cornwall. Shops all called stores, many public houses and all the grocery stores sell drams and beer as well as many others. In some streets every house is a store of some sort. I almost think there are more stores than customers. Stables confined to one spot. Markets begin in the morning. Things as dear as in Lancaster. A very deal of building going forward, a hundred houses or more. I should think at this time. No pigs have I seen in York. Cows a good number, rather small Irish looking and apt to be good milkers, all wear bells. Land about is bad and sandy up to the top. The bush close to the town. In places thick, heavy, rank with pine. Many thousands of feet of wood per acre.”
David also wrote during his early days in York about his decision to emigrate from England to start a new life in Upper Canada:
“I am very satisfied with our situation here and as comfortable as could be expected. Our voyage hither from Lancaster having been exceeding long and very stormy, we have had a good deal of hardship to go through…Still we excaped (sic) without any particular loss or damage. We had our health very well all the way and myself I am as stout and hearty as any time this two or three years back.
“I am very happy I had the spirit and the resolve to emigrate hither and I am confident it will be of great advantage to my family.
“I have no fear if good luck attends, we shall be much better off than we had any chance of in old England…
“I’ll end my days in peace and comfort in a foreign land…I have done my duty now in this world to my family.”
David’s optimism is contagious and you can’t help but root for him as you read his diary. It strikes the heart heavy to read that less than two weeks after arriving in York, David is “taken with a lax” (stomach ailment causing chronic diarrhoea.) It is the beginning of the end for David. He dies eighteen months later, leaving his eight children to make their own way in the New World.
I have a few pictures of David Cragg’s memorial, but I chose to include this photograph because it depicts the young, remembering the old, paying tribute to the sacrifice countless thousands made to give their descendants a better life. I think it’s important to teach our children and grandchildren the precious legacy our forefathers left to us. They need to visit the graveyards, they need to hear the stories, they need to stop and consider from where they came…